Siblings in All but Blood

November 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family

By: Lauren Jankowski

He’s the light-haired, dark-eyed Swede.

I’m the dark-haired, bright-eyed Irish/Cherokee mutt.

To look at us, nobody would guess that we were related in any way, much less siblings. We look nothing alike. When I was in elementary school, I frequently had people tell me that it must be so much easier for me than for my brother because I look somewhat like my family with my dark hair. He, being blond, obviously didn’t fit in the picture. Yeah, kids are great when it comes to tact. We’ve never been able to fool anyone. We never thought to try. Yet despite the very noticeable physical differences, our personalities are frighteningly similar at times.

We’re both atheists, democrats, and cynical to the bone. We don’t enjoy crowds, gatherings, or get-togethers and much prefer to be left on our own. Growing up in a fairly outgoing Roman Catholic family, we were the peculiar ones in the happy-go-lucky holidays. You’d think this would lead to some sort of camaraderie in our impressionable years. It did not.

When I found out my parents were bringing home another kid, I threw a tantrum. Being five years old at the time, that was pretty much my response to everything that I didn’t like. My parents kept insisting that a baby brother would be a present for me, a blessing in my life. I was skeptical and that skepticism only grew when I wasn’t even allowed to name him. I wanted to call my new baby brother Jack. They settled on Michael. I hold my choice was better and Mike agrees with me.

As Michael grew up, we had some of the nastiest, all-out, brutal battles imaginable. Sibling rivalry doesn’t even begin to approach the kinds of fights we had growing up. It was war, plain and simple.

Eventually, we both grew up and matured. Sometime around my teenage years, I realized having another person around wasn’t so bad. Well, except when he would have his friends over. I’d be trying to write and was constantly interrupted by the raucous video game parties they held every weekend!

Today, I’m closest with my brother. We’ve gone from bitter enemies to allies fighting for survival in the trenches of family holidays. Being the only atheists, and by extension, open to the idea of scientific explanations and solutions, we’re the lone wolves. Michael has a better grasp of science and math than I do and I frequently find myself seeking his help when trying to explain why someone’s argument is illogical. I’ve learned so much from him, just listening to his explanations.

He’s my toughest critic, my only one at the moment, and nothing gets sent out without his once over. He’s got an amazing grasp of literature and even though we don’t always agree, he can at least give me a coherent argument about why something doesn’t work. His criticism gives me something to think about, even when I don’t agree with it.

There are still some things that we don’t see eye-to-eye on. When I see something as sexist, he usually sees it as merely old-fashioned. He doesn’t think our genders affect the way our family treats us –such a male opinion. He is much better at social situations than I am. Where he can hide his disdain for someone, I’ve never learned how. I sometimes seem like the younger sibling, despite being five years older. Still, I know he always has my back and I have his.

Michael will be going back to college soon and I find myself hoping that he applies to the college that I attend. Being much older than most of the student body, I’ve found myself feeling out of place. Having my younger brother would give me another person to interact with. Neither one of us is a fan of academic settings, probably because of our dislike for crowds.

I find that we seem a lot closer than most siblings, in our own quirky way. Is it because we are the only two adopted people in our family? Perhaps. Or maybe we’re just two of a kind. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t trade him for the world.


Don’t Judge the Expectant Mother by the Belly

September 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By Becki Melchione

“So, I hope you don’t mind if I ask this, but are you jealous?” a new friend asks after I tell her that another woman is pregnant with my twins.

I pause, thinking for a moment, and then respond with the first thing that pops in my mind, “Jealous of who? Of her? No.”

The more I think about it, the more sure I am that I am definitely not jealous of my carrier.  Bunny is an amazing person for even doing this.  She is open, honest, and quick to laugh.  I admire her ability to get pregnant — she likes to say that the only safe time she and her  husband can have sex without getting pregnant is when she’s already pregnant — and her skill as a mother, deftly handling three under the age of six almost by herself. She sends me photos of her growing belly and tells me when she feels a flutter that she thinks one of the babies is moving.  Although the babies aren’t growing in me, she does her best to make me feel involved. No, I am definitely not jealous of her.  I am grateful for her.

But then I go to Babies ‘R Us and see all of the women and their bellies.  Big bulbous bellies that command respect and oooohs and aaaahs.

“How far along are you?” I overhear the sales people ask, trying to strike up a conversation in the hopes of increasing their sales. The sales people don’t come up to me. They don’t try to sell me strollers or high chairs. They don’t offer any advice. I don’t look like a balloon about to pop. I don’t look anxious to get everything I need today because I’m counting down the days until the baby arrives.

Then, I feel a twinge of something. Like I want some attention too. So I ask the young sales guy for advice about strollers.

“Excuse me, can you tell me what the difference is between the City Mini and the Britax jogger styles?”

The middle-aged man says, “Well, they’re basically the same. The Britax is basically a copy of the City Mini. The City Mini comes in more colors and the Britax only comes in red and black. There are a few other differences like…”

A young father walks by with an orange Citi Mini and says to me, “You should get the City Mini. We love it and it’s our third stroller. We should have just bought it first.”

I smile at this father, not just for his recommendation, but because he assumed (rightly, if more importantly without judgment or any further thought) that I am an expecting mother.  Perhaps he remembers the bewildered feeling he had accompanying his wife for the first time to the baby mega store and how distanced and overwhelmed he felt, how unapart from the process he felt while the baby grew inside his wife.

Later,  I watch a pregnant woman try to reach for some diapers on an upper shelf. I imagine her life, her excitement at what is about to happen. I thought about her worries, how to comfort her crying baby, whether the baby will take to breast feeding, whether she will return to work. I have those same worries and then some, the top of the list being, “Will I be around to to watch them grow into teenagers and adults?”

I am incredibly jealous of the relative insignificance of her worries.  “It must be nice to have those worries…” but then I realize that this is the moment that she has been waiting for for years.  Having a baby is the most important thing in her life.  It will define and change everything, if it has not already.  She’s probably feeling the same amount of anxiety and fear as I am, for the same reason.  We both want to be the best mothers possible.

“Let me get that for you,” I offer, as I reach for the Huggies newborn diapers.

“Thank so much.” she begins, and glances to her belly, “This is getting hard.”

“I understand,” I reply.


My Visit to the Cradle

June 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Adoptive Families, Family

By: Lauren Jankowski

How is it possible that I can so vividly remember the architecture of the third floor, but not the front door?

Strange as it sounds, that was my first thought as I stood outside the Gothic structure.  It had been more than 15 years since I last stood on this sidewalk, in front of this place.  I was adopted from this massive stone building, known as The Cradle.  I was brought here when I was an infant, stayed in the nursery for a bit before being taken home, and visited off-and-on throughout the first few years of my life.

So why would I only remember the top of the building and not the front door? It is a really beautiful door. (When I posted the few pictures I took, a friend of mine even said it looked kind of “magical”.)

Still, I had not come to just stand in front of the building on an overcast day to ponder the reasons why I could only remember certain features.  I wanted to see inside, so I went up to the door and rang the bell on the side.  After a few minutes of no one answering, I read the sign above the bell and realized that it was only for after-hours when the place was closed.  I sheepishly opened the door and stepped inside, hoping that I had not made a complete dunce of myself.

Though I did not remember the exact specifics of the inside, the feeling remained the same.  The Cradle has always had an air of old splendor.  It is much more home-like, with a sense of warmth and charm.  One would think an adoption agency would have a clinical feeling, but thankfully The Cradle does not.  I wandered over to the reception desk and told the receptionist that I was expected.  She smiled, gave me a visitor’s pass to clip on my shirt, and directed me to the living room.

While waiting for my guide for the day, I looked around the living room.  It still has the same soft furniture that I remember from my childhood, but for some reason, the room was much brighter than I remembered.  I fiddled around with my camera a bit, trying to figure out how it worked, when I thought about how strange it was that I was now a visitor.  I began to get more eager to explore the place that has been an incredibly important part of my life.

Gaby, my guide for the day and the Interactive Engagement Manager for The Cradle, greeted me in the living room.  We started down the first hall, where she showed me a picture of The Cradle founder: Florence Dahl Walrath.  Walrath first started in adoption when her sister lost a child at birth.  Knowing how much her sister wanted to be a mother, Walrath found a woman who had to give up her baby for adoption.  After this experience, more childless couples that Walrath knew asked for her help.  In 1923, she founded The Cradle.

The portrait of Walrath is one of a determined-looking older woman.  It reminds me of the portraits I’ve seen of suffragettes.  Before we move down the hall, Gaby brings me back to the living room for a bit and points out that most of the front half of the building is from the original 30s structure.  The back half is from the renovation in 1957, when the nurses’ dormitory was made.  In the living room, there is much of the original furniture.  She brings me over to the large bookcase and takes down one of the books from the year that I was adopted.  The Cradle keeps photos of all the children that have been adopted from there.  It’s a very quaint touch that adds to the overall feeling of home, almost like family albums.  Throughout the rest of the building, we will pass by many pictures of children both recent and old.  In the old staircase, there are pictures of some of the first children that were adopted through The Cradle.

On our way to the old staircase, an original feature from when The Cradle first started (on their website, there’s even a picture of the nurses standing on it), we pause at the Hollywood wall.  Gaby points out a couple pictures of Bob Hope, Donna Reed, Pearl Buck, and Gayle Sayers.  She mentions that The Cradle has placed about 15,000 babies.

As we continue on, we stop in a small room that was part of the original nursery back in the 50s.  It is a fascinating look back into the past.  There are tiny little bottles, a sink, an old crib, and other items that had once, in the 50s, been cutting-edge.  Gaby mentions how The Cradle often led the way in infant care, from studies to publications on the sterilization of instruments used to treat them.  As we exited, she pointed out that the current president’s office had once been a little shop where first-time adoptive parents could purchase clothes to bring their newborns home in.

We went up to the second floor of the building (The Cradle has 3 floors and a basement), stopping in a family room.  The family rooms are brightly colored rooms, often stocked with toys and comfortable furniture.  This is where I discovered the first big change since I had last been there: The Cradle now deals solely in open adoption.  The biological and adoptive parents have to meet at least once in what they call a “match meeting”.  When I asked Gaby about the change, she explained that studies have shown that open adoptions are better for all the parties involved.  I couldn’t help but wonder if my own experience would have been different had I been an open adoption.

There are two teams of counselors at The Cradle, one for the biological parents and another for the adoptive parents.  They are able to provide 24/7 support for biological mothers.  The counselors organize the “match meeting” between the two sets of parents.

The third floor is where the nursery is located.  My mother had mentioned, and Gaby confirmed, that The Cradle is the only adoption agency in the nation with an on-site nursery.  They are incredibly expensive to run, but provide a phenomenal amount of support both for the biological parents and the infants too.  As we stopped in front of the large windows, a nurse and two “cuddlers” (Cradle term for the volunteers who hold and care for babies in the nursery) were at work.  One was walking about, feeding an infant while another was rocking one near a window.  The second volunteer was holding a particularly fussy baby while rolling two more in a stroller.  Gaby mentions that there were five babies in the nursery today.  Last week there were nine.

In Illinois, a woman must wait 72 hours before she can surrender her rights to the child.  The Cradle allows biological mothers to stay in the nursery if they wish.  Birth fathers have to be notified and they are given 30 days to respond.

After the nursery, we continued to the Belonging Room.  This is a feature that Florence Dahl Walrath insisted on.  It is a room where adoptive parents meet their infants for the first time.  It’s a simple room: chairs, a sofa, a changing table, and even a crib.  When looking in the small room, the first thing I noticed was the gigantic Winnie the Pooh in the crib, which was slightly creepy.

After this, we went down to the first floor again and back to the living room.  Gaby mentioned that The Cradle mostly places infants, but will take children up to two years old.  They only do domestic placements but do home studies for international adoptions.  That was another surprise.  I remembered The Cradle had once had a Russia program.  Gaby explained that international adoption has gotten increasingly difficult.  Laws are always changing and the wait times are continually getting longer.  Adoptions on the whole are down, but The Cradle continues to provide full service.

The biggest change that I found, aside from the open adoption, was that The Cradle has now added classes –both online and on site –for adoptive parents.  Most of these classes are seminars on relevant topics, such as open adoption.  Their website has grown quite substantially.  There are new sections dedicated to adoptee stories and families that are waiting for children.  Scrolling through the profiles, it is heartening to see the variety of families; there are single people, same-sex couples, heterosexual couples, and mixed race couples, all hoping to start a family.

Another interesting thing that has changed at The Cradle is their naming practice.  Since switching to open adoption, the yearly reunion held at The Cradle now sees children with two nametags: one for the name given to them by their biological parents and one for the name given to them by their adoptive parents.  When I had been adopted, I went through three names.  My biological mother called me Adrian (a name that I’ve always hated), The Cradle called me Mia (a name that I’ve always loved), and my mother decided on Lauren (a name that she loved –me…not so much).  My brother went through the same thing, though he didn’t like any name that he had been given.

As we parted, Gaby invited me to come back to film my story for their website.  I said that I would be interested, if I could find some spare time to do so.  It had been an overall interesting experience, particularly in regards to the long history of the place that has been such a large part of my life.

As I went down the three short steps towards the front door, I glanced to the side and noticed a simple painting.  It looks like a watercolor, stark contrast to the somewhat shadowy alcove, and it’s a simple painting: a path winding through the countryside.  There’s a similar painting across from it.  They are both quite pretty and appropriate for the agency.

As I left the gothic building, I took a few final shots of the exterior.  I’m determined not to forget that door again.


An American Tourist Goes to China

May 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel

By: Madge

I just returned from China on a 33-person tour with a high-end company, and I have some advice for travelers looking to visit the country. First, you must decide whether you want to travel with a group (small or large), or individually (with maybe just one partner).  Secondly, you must pay close attention to the hotel star rating!! In China, one star off can mean the difference between not having a toilet in your room, no elevator in the hotel (in China, a building with nine stories or fewer doesn’t warrant an elevator), being too far off the beaten path, sleeping in filthy conditions, or having no air conditioner.

I am older and travel by myself (unless I can get a friend to join me), so I try to travel first class. I like comfort in third-world countries. I want to be on a walking street and near major subway or train lines for my days away from the tour. And since you can’t control the random people joining your tour, you can only hope someone shares your love of food or adventure so that you don’t end up being alone when the group has free time. I do well with going places by myself but I like to go to dinner with others. I like to talk about what I have seen during the day and share ideas and life stories.

Before my trips I tend to avoid researching my destination too much, as I want to learn along the way, and arrive with no preconceived notions. A high-end tour company usually provides so much information that one doesn’t need to study beforehand. It might, however, be beneficial to know some of the restaurants ahead of time, especially if you are a real foodie      –but know that the concierge at the better hotels will have lists upon lists of places to dine for all different prices and all different foods.

Once you check in to your hotel in China, discover the hotel’s amenities.  Many have free gym facilities, a sauna or spa, or even indoor pools. I found the gyms to be lovely and in top shape. As one who is spending her kids’ inheritance, I tend to leave it to the tour company to make all the arrangements. I just buy my airplane tickets through a travel agent and depend on them to get me the best deal with miles, points, upgrades, and anything else I can use to get into business class. When I was younger I traveled more standard fare, but now I want supreme services, a wonderful bed, and luxurious surroundings.

China has much to offer in the way of sights, so plan your trip to include those you want to see the most. The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Terra Cotta Warriors are the main attractions in China. Each one deserves a day –at least –for exploration. Any good tour will include these sights. Then the extras…like good shopping, if that is your thing, and of course, food. My “thing” is to mix with the locals, where they shop, where they eat, where they play (parks, etc.).  I like tours that take you to local farmers’ markets, to schools to see how the kids learn, and on walks around older sections of the city.  If you have a religious bent you might ask the tour company to get a group together to take you to the area where your religion is followed or was allowed at one time. In Shanghai a group of us went to where the Jewish refugees were allowed to live during WWII. Shanghai was the only place that allowed Jews to emigrate freely. It is always worth checking into temples and monuments that suit your interests.

Unfortunately, my trip to China was not as rewarding as were my trips to Japan, India, Eastern Europe, South America, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.  China is being so overbuilt right now.  It is like any major city, destroying its history to make way for progress and rapid growth. Even with the one child rule, the country holds 1.3 billion people. (Geographically, it is a little smaller than the US, which only has 250 million.)  Chinese farmers have had to move to the city where they have no jobs (job waiting) and where they are not used to living in high-rise buildings with more Western-style amenities. They are missing their connections to the earth and are not faring well in the city. Also, the older sections of the cities that hold the riches in their history are being destroyed.

For me, the country lacked spirit and soul and reminded me everyday that it is communist. Capitalism and graft are alive and well in China. The government owns all the land (even the Starbucks, Dairy Queen and McDonalds share 49% to 51% – Chinese Government owned). I always find that third-world countries love our fast food establishments, which I can’t understand. The people seemed to me spiritless, just going through the motions. The men appeared much more aggressive than the women (like pushing and shoving to get ahead of the women in lines). In airplanes, men and women start moving towards the front, seatbelts unbuckling, clicking everywhere –before the plane has landed. No one waits in a line in the bathroom either but rather in front of a stall. I had to physically move a woman out of my way as she tried to beat me to the squat toilet (which I must admit is not something to rush for).

Gay rights are acknowledged in that they did away, just four years ago, with the declaration that homosexuality was a medical/psychiatric issue. Since so many women hold hands in China, it’s not easy to determine who is gay. But according to our guide there is a gay section in each major city with bars and clubs, but I didn’t have time to check them out.

If I were to compare China to India, I would say that India wins, hands down, as a place to visit. It is colorful, filled with sights and sounds and joyful people. Although the poverty is more prevalent in India, the people are much more spirited. I would recommend India for first-time exposure into a third-world culture. All in all however, because China and its growth will impact our planet in so many ways, visiting it should still be on everyone’s bucket list. Articles in Time and Newsweek state that in a few decades (or in 50 to 100 years), every family will have some type of Chinese facial feature in their families as they start to travel and move around the world. Better start learning Chinese, which has 50,000 characters for words! (You can get by on 3,500 but 10,000 will make you a Chinese scholar.)  I feel that with all its rapid growth (building dams and re-routing water has allowed them to make their cities bigger and bigger), China will soon hit a recession like we are feeling. China already doesn’t produce enough food to feed its people and imports almost all of its food, which I find amazing.

China is growing by leaps and bounds and I am lucky enough to have gone, but visiting has caused me to realize even more how great the US is, with not only our many conveniences, but also our ability to prosper, dream, and achieve our goals. Such promise is offered to everyone in the US (albeit for some it is much more difficult), whereas in China only the top government officials and the real estate developers are thriving.  Opportunities in China are not endless like they are in the US.

I always love to travel, as exploration is in my soul, but I love to come home. (And I also REALLY missed social networking, which is totally banned in China!)




Text Fiend

February 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Family

By: Laurenne Sala

No technology

My phone fell into the toilet. With just the unbuttoning of my pants, a miniscule splash warned me of its plunge from my back pocket. My super-fast reflexes got it out within seconds, but the device fizzled to its untimely death. Dead phone.

I guess I can’t really call it a dead phone. The little machines we constantly hold within reach are much more than phones. Mine was a map, an address book, a note pad, a Scrabble game, a news channel, and a constant connector to all things human. It’s strange I rely on something so mechanical to connect me with other humans, but I do. We all do. Everywhere. In elevators. In traffic. All. The. Time. Recently, despite my greatest efforts, I felt I was slipping into an abyss of super connectivity. I’d become too attached to my sweet, sweet device. I would freeze in anxiety when I couldn’t find it for just one minute. I would check my email two minutes after I had just checked it. I would tweet after sex. Just finished greatest kegel workout ever. LOL.

Lately I’d grown fearful of my attachment to technology, so when my phone went the way of the toilet, I decided to see how long I could go without it. Disconnected from my network, I would learn to connect with reality. I would eat out alone while reading a newspaper. I would write my friends letters…with a pen. I would make conversation in elevators instead of pretending to craft a VIP email while really texting penis jokes. I hypothesized that this new untethered lifestyle would convince me to give up my phone forever. I had only had a smart phone since May, so it couldn’t be that hard to completely disconnect. No landline. No SIM card. No texts. No problem.

Day One was refreshing. I was a free bird. Nobody could interrupt me or even find me. I felt more aware in traffic– just me, the other cars, and NPR. No sneaking texts while looking out more for cops than the road.

On Day Two, I walked to a coffee shop. With no palm distractions, I noticed more flowers. I smiled at more people. Phone who?

And then came Days Three and Four. I had to make plans. I had to return calls. I wondered what my mom was doing. Mostly, though, I needed my phone to tell people I was late. Or that I’d forgotten something and needed them to bring it. Or that I actually wouldn’t make it to their party even though I said I would. Not having a phone turned me into an incompetent bitch. Or did the phone itself turn me into an incompetent bitch?

I realized that our phones allow us to be late, to not show up, to forget things. One quick “can’t make it” text clears the schedule without any confrontation. Have our phones created a world of flakey, non-confrontational wusses? Without a phone, I was forced into accountability. I also developed a better relationship with my nails, as I was constantly cleaning them out instead of playing Scrabble.

I could do this. I wanted to be accountable. I wanted clean nails.

By Day Six, my friends had bombarded me with hate emails, each one annoyed that they couldn’t ask a quick question or tell me they were waiting out front. Though being unreachable feels somewhat like a relief, it’s a pain for those who need to reach you.

After the first week, that was my professional conclusion:

Being disconnected is possible, but not within a society so connected.

Now that I’m rounding Day Twelve, I’ve found a less professional conclusion:

Help! I’m lonely. I’m dying inside. I NEED my texts. I WANT TEXTS now.

We’re in an era where human interaction does not require voice or touch. A simple clickity click and my cousin gets a picture of a random penny because we have that joke about random pennies. A text doesn’t only warn of tardiness. It’s also the easiest way to say hi, that you love somebody, that you you’re thinking of them. Some may argue that it’s impersonal, but in a world where friends live so far away, texts are all the humanity we can sometimes get. I can give up the map and the notepad and the Scrabble, but I want the friends I’m used to carrying with me. Going twelve days without them has left me helpless and empty. I surrender.

Once I get my phone repaired, I will more than make up for my days without texting. And I’ll send plenty of penny pictures. However, I am committing right now to being a conscious phone user. I vow that I will not fall back into that zombie-like zone of constant downward head-tilting and incompetency.

And to my nails, I promise we’ll keep up our new relationship.



November 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Multiples, Parenting

By: Kacie Bernstein

We searched for months to find the perfect crib. My husband thought I was crazy, but cribs seemed like a big deal. When the babies were born, we kept them in one pack n’ play for about six weeks, and then moved them to their gorgeous, solid wood, espresso cribs. Bumper or no bumper?…we went back and forth, but decided to keep them on. Next was the blanket; we gave them that around six months. Then the dropping of the crib –my babies were getting bigger and it was definitely bittersweet.

It was a normal Saturday morning and we put our 16-month-old twins down for their 9:00 nap, but Zach was screaming; apparently he didn’t need the nap as much as we did. After about 15 minutes I decided to take him out to try again later, but somehow he got to me first! Yes…my 16-month-old son climbed out of his crib! I screamed for my husband, WTF?…how could this be happening already? I immediately called our pediatrician and both of our moms. Before any advice was given there was a lot of shock and laughter. What in the world were we going to do?

My dad suggested that we turn the crib around since the back was significantly higher. That provided us with a huge sense of relief –how could he ever get out now? We did, however, go to Juvenile Shop that afternoon to purchase two toddler beds. We wanted to be prepared this time, and the beds wouldn’t arrive for a few weeks anyway. Life was simple again…at least, until the following Saturday, when he got out AGAIN! The beds hadn’t arrived yet, and their room wasn’t safe enough for them to potentially roam free in the middle of the night. My husband devised a barrier on the crib with pillows and the changing table pad, which worked for a few days.

Eight days later we got the call that the beds were ready. The babies went to the park in the morning, and when they came back for their nap, the cribs were gone and their new beds were set up.
My husband and I went back and forth about whether or not our daughter should be permitted to stay in her crib; after all, she wasn’t climbing out. I treat both of my children as individuals, but it is much easier to tackle milestones and transitions at the same time. We were so concerned about how they would react about losing their cribs at 16 ½ months! Surprisingly, the transition was very smooth. Naptime was a little difficult for the first few days, but that was it. They don’t always sleep in their beds – we occasionally find them in one bed together or on the floor –but at least they are sleeping and safe!


Double the Trouble

November 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Multiples, Parenting

By: Kacie Bernstein

Double the Trouble, HOW DO YOU DO IT?, I could NEVER…are just a few of the comments I have become accustomed to hearing since my almost-19-month-old twins were born.

When the babies were two weeks old, our pediatrician gave us the green light to take them out for walks, but I had no idea what was in store for me. Our “limo”, otherwise known as the double snap n’ go, soon turned us into a freak show. I must admit, the stroller did take up half a city block and had the turning radius of a tricycle, but I had no idea it would draw so much attention from complete strangers.

After being on modified bed rest for 12 weeks, all I wanted was to take my new babies out and get some fresh air. Since they were so small I would keep them covered with blankets to block the sun…which meant that no one could actually see them, but somehow we were still stopped every five seconds. As a brand-new mom of twins, the last thing you want to hear are negative comments from people you don’t even know. The amazing part is that people still felt the need to stop us and ask silly questions. One of my very favorites is when we are asked if they are identical. I say that because I have boy/girl twins, so my response at times is “no, one has a penis!”

Out of all the comments people make, the worst is when they ask if my babies are natural. I understand people’s curiosity and fascination with the multiples boom, but it’s really not anyone’s business, especially someone off the street. All babies are natural no matter how they were conceived; no one asks a singleton parent if her child is “natural”. Why does everyone just assume that fertility treatments were involved? Can’t they just be happy for someone who brought a new life -or two -into the world? It’s like our moms always told us…if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Although my life is a little hectic…ok, very hectic, I feel so blessed to have these two babies, and I can’t wait to watch them grow!


The Butterfly Effect

October 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Family

Name: Matthew Nathan

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
As a 14-year-old, I had it all figured out. Married by 26. A dad by 28. Archaeologist. A trip from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego in the SUV my parents would naturally buy me on my graduation from high school. Oh, and a horse. And a sailboat in there somewhere so I could sail around the world when I wasn’t digging in Egypt or Israel and, you know, stuff.

Life is a lot more mundane for most of us than what I imagined, with a lot I hadn’t bargained for: most archaeologists spend more time teaching than digging. Horses and sailboats? Too much time and money. Tierra del Fuego? Yeah, right. And married people were heterosexual. So were dads. While that little voice in my head was trying to tell me I was gay, I spent my adolescence with imaginary fingers plugging my figurative ears, yelling back “lalalalalalalalalCAN’THEARYOU!!!” even though I had never had the slightest interest in girls and discovered at 15 that sex with guys interested me very much indeed.

I stopped pretending in college, and thus 26 and 28 passed, single and childless. I decided to be a TV reporter, though my parents still wanted me to be an archaeology professor (I should have listened). I moved from L.A. to Florida to Vermont, two-year stints at near-poverty wages that ruled out any long-term relationship with anyone remotely appropriate. When my dad died of lung cancer in 2000, I quit my job in Burlington and moved back to California to be closer to my mom. (Conveniently, my boyfriend at the time had just had two affairs and kicked me out of the house.) I already wanted out of news; bad pay, bad bosses and too many scare-the-viewer stories didn’t compensate for the floods, forest fires, and other moments of pure adrenaline. I made a deal with the higher power I don’t believe in: give me a travel reporting job in San Francisco and I will stay a reporter.

And that’s exactly what happened. I was hired by a production company to produce two nationally syndicated reports a week. For a blissful year, I was amply paid and was sent to the Santa Barbara Wine Country, to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and a few not-so-sexy places like Orlando. And then the maelstrom sucked my employer down into oblivion (dot.coms = ad revenue for TV stations = extras like travel reports) and, after 14 months living at the generosity of the State of California, I took a job at a local station in Sacramento. Back in local TV news. Crap.

But it turns out life is sort of an adventure, a butterfly-effect of small decisions and uncontrollable circumstances with big consequences. And so, in my mid-40s, I find myself married and contemplating fatherhood – which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t met Adrián, which wouldn’t have happened if the crash hadn’t forced me back into local news in Sacramento, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t moved to San Francisco, and so on back through two decades of semi-conscious living. Along the way, I got to ride in the scoop of a bulldozer through a tropical storm, duck bullets, dodge forest fires, and once in a while, even feel like the stories I told made a difference. Damned if things didn’t turn out the way I wanted after all.


The Ecstasy of Blue Underpants

September 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting

By: Katherine Ellis

My sister missed my niece’s potty training window; at least, that’s what she suspected. They were too busy; they waited past the pinnacle of Lulu’s potty excitement. She was on the downhill slide, totally over the potty, when my sister decided it was time. By then three year-old Lulu didn’t care, she seemed perfectly happy to have her mother change her diaper forever.

My sister was in the midst of this drama and chattering into my ear over the phone when my daughter, Josie, came home from preschool screeching about underwear and the potty. She was two-and-a-half and demanding boo (blue) underwear. My sister encouraged me to act. Move! Move! Do it now while you can!

The next morning we made a BIG show of going to buy new underwear with all kinds of gaudy, sparkly, animated characters with crowns and wings and oversized ears. And our girl went for it. She was all in. We read her the potty book and I, Josephine’s mother, put her on the potty every 30 minutes (this sentence is hilarious if you’ve read the Potty Book 5,000+ times). It worked. Oh how proud we were!

Josie got a sticker every time she used the toilet and it was going so well. Then… Meh. We lost interest, and by ‘we’ I mean she. She lost interest. It was fun for a while. Then our friends gave us some leftover pull-ups with princesses on them. Oh for pete’s sake. She was over underwear. She carried her new diapers around the house, clutched to her chest. She got out of bed at night to diaper her monkey; she slept with them close to her face. Are you kidding me? Get those potty-killer pants out of my house! We took a little break. We used the princess diapers until they were gone and went back to the generic diapers of our past.

Not much later, she decided to go back to underwear and this went well for a time. One day I brought home some new bar stools with seats made of woven sea grass to test out in our kitchen and soon they were saturated with pee – well, I guess we’re keeping them now. She could use the potty. She just wasn’t interested and didn’t really mind walking around with wet pants. Soon, like so many other things in our two-and-a-half year-old’s life, it became an issue of control. The parents want me to use the potty; therefore, I must not use the potty. Must not.

There was some hand-wringing, some parental resignation. Then: new bribery. She would get a matchbox car for every day she went without an accident. She was crazy about those little cars and, at $.69/car this was a habit I could support. I’d even get one of those big carrying cases if she got enough of them. This worked for a time then… Cookies! Yes, cookies would save us. I know, surely I’m scarring my child forever by using food as a bribe but…desperate times.

Josie’s approaching her third birthday, growing out of the original underpants, and the last few weeks we’ve instituted a new reward. If she has a whole week without an accident we can rent a new movie. Oh the joy! Most of the time Josie does earn the reward, and last I heard my niece had finally hopped onto the potty bandwagon and would not, in fact, be wearing diapers forever.

I’ve heard rumors of other parents who have smoother, more practical, nurturing ways to potty-train –solutions that are child-centric and enhance the connection of parent and child. However, I, Josephine’s mother, have been humbled by parenting in many ways. These days I’m willing to do just about whatever it takes to get through it all, even if that means we have to watch a whole bunch of movies filled with princesses.

For more stories of our adventures visit



September 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Family

By: Katherine Malmo

I was 31 the day I noticed something was wrong with my left breast. My husband and I had just returned from an 8-month round-the-world honeymoon. We were trying to start a family. I was writing an article about a national regatta for a sailing magazine and I spent the day on the race committee boat, taking notes and pictures. I did my best to stay out of the way, not just during the pre-race sequence when everyone was trying to find a clear line of sight to the starting gun, but the whole day, as if I could hide from my mounting fear.

That morning after my shower I had noticed the swelling and retracted nipple. Then I found the hard spot, and I knew it was all bad. For years I’d managed to get through life with mysterious gastro-intestinal health problems. The doctors all said I was fine. I looked fine – my teeth were straight and white and my hair was shiny. As soon as I saw my deformed breast I realized I may have been looking in the wrong place.

A week later, my husband and I met with a doctor who told us that breast cancer treatment had come a long way, and we found ourselves walking down a cherry blossom-littered sidewalk with a printout list of doctors’ appointments, and a brand new breast cancer diagnosis.

I went dark.

In the two weeks that followed I was diagnosed, more specifically, with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I cried in unfamiliar parking lots. I laid on the grass in my back yard fully clothed in the full sun. I called friends and family. I yelled at them. I Googled. I read. I researched. I called help lines and begged them to find someone with exactly what I had. (They’re all dead, aren’t they?) I met with therapists. I sipped green tea while I read an article that said I had a 10% chance of living 5 years.

When I couldn’t take one more thing, my oncologist suggested my husband and I meet with a fertility specialist. We had a weekend to decide if we would delay my treatment and pump my body full of estrogen – feeding my hormone-positive tumor – to harvest eggs. We had 48-hours to decide if my life was more or less important than the lives of our unborn children. Over a mediocre dinner of pork chops topped with something sweet and tart, like cherries, we agreed we’d adopt. Maybe. Someday. After all, what was the point of having children if I wasn’t there to help raise them?

I went darker.

I wished I were the kind of person who could trust and listen and wait for the right outcome. I’m not patient. I’m a realist, a pragmatist. When I was told there was a 90% chance this would kill me, I believed it. I decided I would face my death and come to terms with it. My road would be short but sweet.

I stayed dark through 28 weekly chemotherapy injections, months of nausea, hot flashes, hormonal swings, neuropathy, insomnia; I was obsessed with my own death. I found a new therapist who said, “Katherine, death is a landscape. You can visit but you can’t stay.” I repeated these words to myself a million times a day. I wrote them on scraps of paper and carried them in my pocket. They went through the wash then the dryer; I slept them, ate them, drank them in my morning tea. I held onto them tightly when everything else was slipping past.

I had surgery. I had radiation. I learned to weld.

Of course my story is much more involved. There were support groups, complications, painful choices. There were saints and villains, artists, dogs, soups, nurses, compliments and insults. Doctors were abandoned, and new ones were consulted. There were new friends and dinners, candles and stories. Dead friends and lost years. I can’t write it all here in this small space. I’ve written word after word, filling blog posts, stories, and chapters. I wrote a book.

Last May I passed my five-year cancerversary (anniversary of diagnosis). I am told I am cancer-free, and my gastrointestinal problems are less mysterious and more manageable. Today I’m just another overwhelmed mother of a “spirited” child, trying to hold it together in the grocery store.

But there is always the threat of recurrence. You can still see fear in my eyes. I try not to think about the landscape to which I tried to relocate. I try not to think about the tumors that could be growing on my bones or in my lungs or in the lungs of my husband, child, or friends. I try to be more kind and patient with everyone, and to bring fresh broccoli from the garden to the renter who is dying of lung cancer in the apartment above our garage.

My grandmother turned 89 last week. We went to the beach on a hot day. She was too modest and ashamed of her “sagging skin” to wear a swimming suit but she couldn’t resist the lure of the water, and with some encouragement she walked right into the lake, fully clothed, up to her neck. I know that when I am old I will miss some things more than others. I’ll miss diving into that deep black lake on a hot summer day, carrying my girl on my shoulders, the slow shift from the heel to toe edge on a newly waxed snowboard, the slide of a small sailboat as I accelerate out of a roll tack. I hold onto all this and I try to appreciate that I am one of the few people who has a clear line of sight to the committee boat. And, because light travels faster than sound, even when it’s dark I can see the spark of the starting gun before anyone else hears the shot.

Katherine Malmo


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